John Donne is remembered on the blog by the phrase, “no man is an island” indicating, a good deal before Adam Smith, the interconnectedness of our lives. Donne (1572 – 1631) was the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, and a metaphysical poet. He specialized in drawing unexpected comparisons between a theoretical, spiritual or abstract notion and a concrete, palpable object. For example, Donne compared mutual love to a pair of mapping compasses, which, where-ever the points are placed on the surface of the world, lean towards each other and are connected.
The history of language itself is the history of the movement from the concrete to the abstract. Our ancestors had a far larger vocabulary than we do, as they were more particular than general.
The power of metaphor consists in making the abstract once again visceral: philosophy ‘proved upon our pulses’, in Keats’s phrase.
But it is a suspect power as it may not so much illuminate, as rhetorically persuade, or falsify.
The history of political and economic thinking is filled with metaphoric physicalisation of abstract ideas – from Hobbes’s “war of all against all”, Smith’s “invisible hand”, Marx’s “spectre haunting Europe”, right up to Matt Taibbi’s “great vampire squid”, powerful gut images have managed to consolidate a set of ideas, capture the public imagination, frame debate.
Rarely a thread of the blog goes by without some arresting image. The following is necessarily a swift and limited survey of some of the kinds of imagery used during the Irish economic crisis so far, followed by some thoughts towards a fresh set of images that might be explored.